It’s not uncommon for gym-goers to express their commitment to bodybuilding as an addiction — using the word ‘addiction’ to convey how strong their commitment to their goals is. However, that may not be an accurate or healthy way to articulate one’s relationship to the gym.
On the July 28, 2023, episode of The Mike O’Hearn Show, the show’s namesake sat down with addiction recovery expert Adam Jablin to delve into the relationship between addiction and its influence on fitness and bodybuilding. Check out the video below, courtesy of Generation Iron‘s YouTube channel:
O’Hearn opened the interview by asking Jablin if it was possible to be addicted to exercise. Jablin replied in the affirmative, defining addiction as something that controls someone physically and mentally and is accompanied by obsession and the willingness to hurt other people over it.
It controls you, and you don’t control it.
Jablin suggested that healthy bodybuilders take off-seasons to give their body time to recover. In contrast, an addict would push their body to its limit to maintain a chiseled physique year-round.
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Social Media and Its Role in Addiction
O’Hearn opined that the rise of social media and the desire to look peeled for photos and videos pushes younger generations to maintain a low body fat percentage throughout the year. He added that it leads to overly strict diets and training programs at a very young age, which could hamper their overall growth.
Growing up, O’Hearn followed a shredding plan for three months and used the remaining nine months to bulk, allowing his body time to heal. However, he believes things are changing, and younger generations want to stay ‘Instagram-ready’ throughout the year.
Jablin emphasized the importance of the younger generation having a role model to learn from to avoid forming bad habits, which could lead to addiction. O’Hearn added that consistency and “doing things the right way” must always go hand-in-hand.
Stages of Addiction
Jablin elaborated on the three stages of addiction formation: a bad habit, an unhealthy dependency, and full-fledged addiction.
Per Jablin, picking up a bad habit is easy and can be internalized within a couple of days. Most people know they are starting a bad habit but do it anyway with the belief that they can drop it anytime. However, that is not typically the case.
Unhealthy dependency involves overly relying on something so much that it becomes a ritual. Individuals with an unhealthy dependency on something often prioritize completing the ritual above all else.
Addiction is linked to obsessions, cravings, the extent one is willing to go for it, and how it affects one’s mental health. According to Jablin, acknowledging one’s current condition is the first step toward recovery.
A 2019 study in PLoS One that sampled four European countries (UK, Netherlands, Italy, and Hungary) found that nearly 12 percent of gym-goers scored above the cutoff that would be considered exercise addiction. A 202o study in the International Journal of Research and Public Health found similar findings, with just over 13 percent of the nearly 2,000-person sample at high risk of exercise addiction. (1)(2)
Jablin urged the lifters addicted to staying lean to take a step back and reflect on the underlying motivations driving their desire for an extremely low body fat percentage. They should then evaluate their current circumstances and the consequences of their actions. This process can lay the groundwork for creating a recovery plan.
Featured image: @adamjablin on Instagram
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